The Aztec Empire was one of the most powerful and magnificent cultures in the region of Central Mexico. It was also the latest of these civilisations and met its downfall when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the region in 1521.
The Aztec’s had a rich culture and built some of the finest buildings in the region, in particular the temples and pyramids, and had a unique architecture. This architecture was inspired by the classical Mesoamerican civilisations but the Aztec’s also added their own unique contributions to it.
Aztec Pyramids were some of the most magnificent buildings of ancient times with a unique style. The main Aztec Pyramid styles were the Twin Stairs Pyramids, the Round Pyramids and the small Pyramids. Read more about the Aztec Pyramids >>
Aztec Architecture History
The Aztec’s built their city-state of Tenochtitlan in 1325 and continued to expand their power until the Aztec Empire was established in 1428. The history of Aztec architecture can be traced back to the classical Mesoamerican cultures since most of them influenced, in part, Aztec architecture.
These cultures included the Olmec culture which existed in the region during the BC era as well as the Mayan culture, the Zapotecs, and the Toltec culture. Other than these historical influences, Aztec architecture also had various elements unique to it.
Aztec Architecture Styles and Design
Aztec architecture had diverse styles for the construction of public buildings, regular homes, and great palaces. However, the most important stylistic components of the Aztec architecture are reflected in their pyramids.
The Aztecs are particularly famous for constructing pyramids with twin temples. This style was further divided into types. One was the construction of two exactly similar temples side by side and the other was the construction of a larger temple consisting of two small temples on the top. The two temples were generally dedicated to two different gods.
Aztec Architecture Construction Methods
Aztec’s used unique construction methods for their architecture. The land upon which Tenochtitlan was built was swampy and thus the Aztec’s had to resort to ingenuous methods for construction and architecture.
For instance, for the construction of their temples and pyramids they made use of the “floating slab” foundation method with foundations made of concrete-like mixture of gravel, sand, and lime. These foundation slabs were anchored into the marshy soil by the pilings made from local tree trunks.
Aztec Architecture Building Materials
Aztec architecture made use of a variety of local as well as imported construction materials. They quarried different types of volcanic stone which was used in the construction of all sorts of buildings.
This included basalt for foundations in addition to tezontle which was a porous, lightweight stone. Andesite was used for pavings and cornerstones. Adobe bricks were also very common in the construction of houses. Other local construction materials included stone, sand, wood, clay, and lime.
Aztec Architecture: The Great City Tenochtitlan
The Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan had an impressive architecture which has also been described by Spanish conquistadors. There was a grand plaza at the centre of the city which was surrounded by temples, pyramids, shines, and other public buildings.
The city was divided into four parts and each had its unique architectural value. The architecture of the city was influenced by cosmology, astronomy, and religion, with the temples and pyramids being the most dominant features of Aztec architecture.
Aztec Architecture Malinalco
Malinalco was the area which was conquered by the Aztec’s in 1470s. The Aztec’s constructed buildings in this area which reflected the unique Aztec architecture.
One of the most famous examples of Aztec architecture in Malinalco is the Aztec House of Eagles, also known as the Palace of Eagle Warriors. It was here that the Aztec Eagle Warriors conducted their ceremonies and performed rituals.
The architecture of the House of Eagles consisted of a broad platform with columns, meeting rooms, and patios. Much of this, however, was destroyed upon the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.
Aztec Architecture Tenayuca
Another important example of Aztec architecture is the archaeological site of Tenayuca. It was conquered and brought into the Aztec Empire around 1434.
A lot of sacred Aztec architecture was developed at Tenayuca, including some of the earliest double pyramid temples of the Aztecs. The temple pyramid of Tenayuca is an architectural marvel and consists of a base adorned with a row of rattlesnake sculptures known as coatepantli in the Nahuatl language.
Aztec Architecture: Templo Mayor
Templo Mayor is the most famous Aztec temple and one of the foremost examples of unique Aztec architecture. This grand temple was located in the capital city of Tenochtitlan and bears the architectural style of the late post classical period of Mesoamerica.
The temples architecture also has rich symbolism incorporated into it. For instance, there is an altar of the toads as symbols of water. In addition to that, there is sacred ball-court and skull rack located at the foot of the stairs of the temple. The temple is aligned with cardinal directions with gates connecting to roads in these directions.
Aztec Architecture: Other Important Aztec Buildings
Aztec architecture of important buildings other than the pyramids, such as the palaces and other elite buildings, had diverse forms, ranging from rustic hunting lodges to the grand palace of Tenochtitlan. While the details varied, Aztec architecture of the palaces had large entry courtyards which served as a meeting place.
The courtyard was surrounded by suites of special purpose rooms such as mansions for wealthy nobles, pleasure palaces, and retreats. Gardens were also an essential feature of Aztec architecture of the palaces. Gardens and courtyards were also incorporated into the Aztec architecture of the homes of the nobles. Another important public place was the community plaza which served as a mega-courtyard for the community.
Aztec Architecture Summary
Aztec architecture, just like other components of Aztec society and culture, bore several influences from the previous Mesoamerican cultures. In addition to that, the Aztecs also added unique contributions to this architecture.
Aztec architecture is particularly noteworthy in their grand temples and pyramids where they incorporated rich symbolism. A typical feature of Aztec architecture in relation to these temples and pyramids was the construction of two twin temples on the top of the pyramids.
Aztecs also constructed grand palaces which had some common architectural features such as large courtyards and gardens in addition to pleasure palaces and retreats. A lot of this Aztec architecture was destroyed when the Spanish conquistadors conquered the Aztec empire.